I’m currently updating two Bangkok guidebooks, something which gives me the opportunity to spend time in the parts of town I wouldn’t normally visit.
Ko Ratanakosin, the artificial island from which Bangkok sprung, is one of the more atmospheric parts of town. Unfortunately, dominated by Buddhist temples and royal palaces, the area has relatively few restaurants. If you need culinary incentive to visit, there’s always Pa Aew, a longstanding street stall near Wat Pho.
The older couple here do exactly the kind of rich, oily, spicy central Thai food I love. Just about everything here’s fried, but fried with care. Unsurprisingly, the dishes are somewhat oily, but oily in a rich way and not necessarily greasy.
There’s almost always kung thawt krathiam, large shrimp deep-fried with garlic (shown in the centre of the pic above), and quite a few other seafood-based dishes. On my most recent visit I had phat phrik khing, a thick curry-like stir-fry with a spicy/sweet chili paste, fish and long beans, and phat chaa look chin plaa, a stir fry of herbs and fish dumplings:
Both were rich, spicy, oily and tasty. Highly recommended.
near cnr of Th Maha Rat & Th Pratu Nok Yung (in front of Krung Thai Bank), Bangkok
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Thanks to my friend N (email tagline: ‘story teller’), I was recently introduced to a pretty cool restaurant in yet another obscure part of Bangkok.
Pet Tun Jao Thaa is a tiny restaurant located opposite the Harbour Department (the Jao Thaa) on Thanon Songwat, the ancient riverside lane in Bangkok’s Talat Noi neighbourhood.
The reason most people come here is for the eponymous duck, braised in Chinese spices and served with a spicy/sour dipping sauce. It’s good (more on that in a minute), but I have to say that my favourite dish of the meal was quite possibly mee phat krachet, thin rice noodles fried with krachet, an indigenous herb-like vegetable (illustrated above). Supplemented with seafood and pork, the noodles were well seasoned – think garlic, lots of garlic, and chili – and very tasty, although I could have used a bit more krachet.
Instead of duck, we went for haan phalo, goose braised in Chinese spices:
The slices of goose breast are served on a platter along with cubes of blood and par-boiled kailan, and the whole lot is slathered with the braising liquid and lots of deep-fried garlic. The goose is tender and flavourful and the phalo is rich and has a meaty depth – a stark contrast to the sweet cinnamon-flavoured sauce that defines many versions of this dish.
Despite this being a duck restaurant, the only duck dish we ordered was kuaytiaw pet, duck noodles, which were quite frankly the least interesting dish of the meal:
They weren’t bad, and the duck was tender and tasty, but as a whole the dish was underseasoned and simply not as wow as the other two.
Ped Tun Jao Thaa
Opposite Harbour Department office, Soi Wanit 2, Bangkok
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I’m currently on the road in northern Thailand doing research for Lonely Planet’s Thailand guide. I’d love to blog on the food up here as often as I did during my previous tour of duty back in 2009, but am really pressed for time and will most likely have to keep it to a handful of standout dishes and restaurants.
Alerted by EatingAsia as to the presence of a previously unknown noodle dish in Chiang Khong, I kept my eyes peeled while recently in the riverside town.
While most Thais associate khao soi with squiggly egg noodles and a curry broth, the residents of Chiang Khong have an altogether different idea of the dish. Referred to locally as khao soi nam naa, the dish combines rice noodles served with a clear pork broth, the whole lot topped with a dollop of a thick tomato and minced pork mixture. This dish has become so synonymous with khao soi in Chiang Khong that the other version is called khao soi kathi, ‘khao soi with coconut milk’.
Following EatingAsia’s lead, I sought out a stall selling the dish in one of the town’s side streets. Upon seeing it, I realised that I’d actually encountered khao soi nam naa (or something very similar to it) previously, in Mae Hong Son, Laos and Myanmar. In Mae Hong Son and Myanmar, I seem to recall that the noodles took the form of round toothsome strands possibly made from tapioca flour, but here the dish was served with a flat rice noodle. The minced pork itself was dry and almost crumbly, and was held together by the paste-like mixture of chili, tomatoes and other spices and herbs. The dish was salty even for my taste, but otherwise was balanced and tasty.
A couple streets over at a flashier restaurant, Pa Orn continues to make and sell khao soi nam naa as her mother did more than 40 years ago:
She claims that her mother, an ethnic Dai/Tai from Xishuanbanna, southern China, brought the recipe from her homeland, suggesting in my mind a pan-Tai link for this dish.
Served in huge bowls, I really enjoyed Pa Orn’s version of the dish, particularly because it was served with a side of some of my favourite veggies. Again, the minced pork was almost dry and crumbly, but was held together by a similar red sauce, which in this case was less tomatoey and salty, but spicier than the previous bowl. Like the previous one, the dish was served with a spicy/salty condiment that was very similar in form and taste to the thick red chili paste one finds at Korean restaurants.
Pa Orn also does some more standard northern Thai dishes, including a meaty khao kan jin, rice steamed with blood:
Soi 6, Chiang Khong
Khao soi nam naa vendor
Soi 8, Chiang Khong
Breakfast & lunch
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Well, not exactly. If you want to get all technical, Phrae is generally regarded as the spiritual homeland of the northern-style version of laap. But neighbouring Nan has a pretty good laap scene as well, as I learned on a recent visit.
My first experience in Nan-style laap was at Pu Som, a dark restaurant decked out with Cowboys and Indians paraphernalia. Fittingly, the emphasis here is on meat, specifically beef.
Pu Som’s laap khua neua, cooked beef laap (illustrated above), is predominately beefy, emphasising meat over spice or heat. It’s also slightly wet in texture and just slightly bitter, due to the addition of beef bile. Like all versions of the dish, it’s topped with deep-fried crispy garlic and a mix of chopped coriander and green onion.
The dish in the middle of the pic is nam phrik khaa, a dip made from shredded galangal that usually accompanies neua neung, a northern Thai dish of coarse cuts of beef steamed over herbs. Dry, pungently herbal and spicy, Pu Som’s is one of the best versions of the dish I’ve encountered. I’d be more than happy with just this tiny bowl and a basket of sticky rice.
Just around the corner from Wat Phumin – my favourite temple in Thailand – is what is allegedly many Nan residents’ favourite place for local-style laap, Laap Khue Wiang.
Here I ordered the pork version, laap muu khua:
The first thing I noticed here was that the spice mixture is quite coarse, as were the cuts of meat, which include bits of crispy deep-fried intestines and liver, as well as lots of fatty skin. The dish was well-seasoned, with an emphasis on the spices, and was both crunchy and chewy.
In talking to the woman preparing the dish, I learned that, rather than simply employing different proteins, beef and pork laap are essentially quite different dishes. She explained that she uses an entirely different spice mixture for the pork version, one that uses a variety of spices including not only the usual suspects makhwaen and deeplee, but cinnamon and coriander seed, among others. I had a whiff and it had a complex, almost sweet scent. Unlike other vendors, she doesn’t use blood in her pork laap as she doesn’t like the dark colour it gives the dish. She then went on to explain that her beef version includes a very simple spice mixture that includes only makhwaen, deeplee and chili, and the dish is darkened with blood and bittered with bile.
Th Mano, Nan
081 675 3795
Laap Kheu Wiang
14/3 Th Robmueang Thittai, Nan
054 77 2092
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You know it’s summer when they set up the floating som tam stalls on just about every river in northern Thailand.
Songkran, the Thai New Year, is around the corner, and because I’d rather not have dirty water thrown at me by a drunk teenager, tomorrow I’m escaping to the hopefully more sedate streets Chiang Tung/Kyaingtong/Keng Tung Myanmar. Am looking forward to this, as I haven’t been back in several years and am particularly interested in investigating the eats of the various Tai groups there.
Am just back from Kentung, and no, I wasn’t able to avoid getting drenched. But before I get into that, here’s one of the more interesting places to eat in Chiang Rai.
Laap kai, chicken laap, is a common Isaan (northeastern Thai) dish, but as far as I can tell, is a rarity in northern Thailand. It wasn’t until 2008 and with the guidance of an article in a Thai-language food magazine that I encountered the dish. Since then, Lung Eed, a restaurant serving laap kai and a handful of other interesting northern-style dishes, has been my go-to place in Chiang Rai.
Lung Eed’s laap kai is unique in several ways. Firstly, I’m not sure exactly how they prepare it – the meat has light, tender, almost tofu-like texture that’s somewhere between fried and steamed. This is in direct contrast to the copious crunchy deep-fried crispy shallots and intestines. The dish has a very subtle dried spice flavour and very little, if any, chili heat. The whole thing involves maybe five ingredients tops, but is one of those dishes that’s so simple, I imagine that it’d be intimidatingly difficult to replicate.
The laap kai is also available raw (!), and they also do a fish version. And all of their laap are served with a basket of unique fresh herbs including paddy herb, young mango leaves and some sort of previously unknown peppery leaf.
They also do a tasty hor neung plaa, a northern Thai dish of freshwater fish combined with a spice paste, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. It was served with the standard spice paste for this dish – heavy on the turmeric and lemongrass – but not having eaten it in a long time, I was surprised at how almost southern Thai in flavour it was.
Lung Eed do a tasty fish head soup and a couple other snacky-type things, and that’s about it.
Lung Eed Locol Food
Th Watpranorn, Chiang Rai
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I arrived in Kengtung (also known as Kyaing Tong and Chieng Tung), Myanmar, just in time for the lunar New Year. I wasn’t able to avoid getting soaked, but I did meet some interesting people and got to eat some interesting festival foods.
If visiting Kengtung from Thailand, it’s obligatory to be accompanied by a guide, and I was fortunate enough to end up with Sai Leng, a native of Kentgung.
Like vast majority of the inhabitants of Kentung, Sai Leng is ethnic Tai (Tai Nuea, to be exact). His village, located just outside Kengtung, could easily be mistaken for a Dai community in the Xishuangbanna region of southern China:
His neighbours are predominately Shan and Tai Nuea, and as is the case with all Tai peoples, food plays a significant part in their traditions and celebrations. Eating at a neighbour’s house on the first day of the New Year celebrations, we had some very local-style drinking food (illustrated at the top of this post): starting at 12 o’clock and moving clockwise, there was deep-fried pork; homemade potato chips seasoned with salt and chili, similar to what I’ve eaten in Yunan; pickled phak kum, a local veggie, served with lots of chili and garlic; pork fried with pickled phak kum and more garlic; a steamed cake of ground peanuts with a delicious chili-oil dip; and in the centre, threads of pork fried with ginger and garlic, similar to the Mae Hong Son dish nuea tam.
While we snacked, the same family was also busy preparing aeb khao, sweets of sticky rice flour, sugarcane sugar, coconut and nuts, strongly associated with Shan New Year:
The next morning, after they’ve been steamed, the sweets are given to monks:
When the snacks were depleted, we moved onto lao khao phueak, the local name for rice whiskey, with more neighbours:
We sat drinking and chatting in a mixture of Thai, English and Shan. The latter, although related to Thai and having many cognates, I found essentially unintelligible. Or maybe it was the lao khao phueak? Either way, when the booze was gone, we then made the next logical step: to the side of the road:
After this… Well, to be honest, Sai Leng’s impromptu concert and my dancing soaking wet on the side of the road are pretty much the last things I remember. I woke up in my hotel room at about 10pm having apparently bought some expensive souvenirs on my way home, and in desperate need of something to eat. I headed over to the town centre, where near a stage erected for the festival, at least eight vendors were selling yet another local festival food, khao som:
the dish of rice, meat and blood steamed in a banana leaf known as khao kan jin in northern Thailand.
Meaty and oily – quite possibly the Shan equivalent of the post-hangover burger.
If you’re thinking of visiting Kengtung and need a guide, Sai Leng speaks English well and has a deep knowledge of Shan/Tai culture. He can be contacted at +95 94903 1470 and email@example.com.
Just a quick note to share a couple blogs I’ve recently come across that focus on Thai cooking. She Simmers, written by a Thai woman based in Chicago, is far slicker than this blog will ever look (it even has its own t-shirts!) and has some good posts on the basic elements of Thai cookery. The intimidatingly-titled ThaiFoodMaster – the FoodMaster being a foreigner who’s lived in Thailand 20+ years and speaks Thai – has helpful step-by-step illustrations for most of its recipes, and videos for a handful of others. And if you’re interested in Burmese food, be sure to check out hsa*ba.
Almost immediately after posting yesterday, I became aware of a few more sites I thought worth sharing: A blog about burgers in Bangkok; an inspiring yet entirely non food-related quote by Ira Glass about pursuing creative endeavours; A New York Times piece about the dangers of eating raw fish products in Thailand; A possible link between Thailand’s fish sauce consumption and low IQ scores from Global Post; and a PRI piece about street food in Bangkok featuring, well, me.